Arts Review: Henry V

Dir. Jennifer Dick, Main Botanic Gardens, 18th July- 2nd August (excluding Sundays and Mondays)

Bard in the Botanics, the self-titled biggest Shakespeare festival in Scotland, has been a fixture of the West End theatre scene for much of the last month, and that presence continues this week with the debut of Henry V,  the first production that the festival has done of this play for over 10 years.

With one eye on the centenary of the outbreak of the First World War, Henry V has been converted by director Jennifer Dick into a performance within a performance. Set at a Glasgow school’s gala and prize-giving day in June 1915,  the play manages to almost seamlessly combine the two eras into a very charming and enjoyable experience. There are, however, a few problems with the adaptation which, while their inclusion is understandable, mean that the train of enjoyment occasionally noticeably rattles over the points.

The first of these is one that on the surface is not a problem at all, and that is the enthralling Chorus, played by Robert Elkin. With such a charismatic and engrossing performance, it was hard to not follow the story when the character was narrating. However, this positive comes with the downside that at times it was easy to find your attention wandering from the main spectacle to the narrator sat on the fringes of the stage, waiting for him to jump back into action again.  In the second act, this becomes less of a problem, as the excellent Henry, played with charisma and emotion by Daniel Campbell, comes alive and captivates.

The World War One parallels are introduced slowly at first, with firing squad sounds at key points and eventually descends into the ‘headmaster’ of the school reading out letters sent to the school informing them of the deaths of former pupils and teachers. While these are touching and interesting, there is a discord with the subject of the play, one that at times can create discomfort with the scene. However, this is all forgotten towards the end of the play, which culminates in some incredibly touching moments that add to the final scenes.

While some of the meta-theatre does fall flat, it’s hard to not recommend this production of Henry V. It’s rousing, entertaining and at times enthralling. It’s rare to see this play performed in Scotland, so the fact that it is performed with aplomb is all the more reason to catch this before the run ends on the 2nd of August.

[Ryan Sandrey]

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